I’ve wrestled with the idea of doing this post for a while. On the one hand, I don’t like when people seem to brag about the charitable acts they do. When a person speaks publicly about the selfless acts they participate in, I feel like it cheapens both the person and the gesture. Similar to a politician’s photo op, I can’t help but find it a little staged. On the other hand, sometimes people should know what’s being done. One might suppose other people are looking for some way to participate or are open to the idea of doing something new, and how would they know without someone sharing? That brings me to this post. I would love to have other people doing this, so I decided this year, I will share with you my Memorial Day tradition.
Venturing a little off topic, you should know there is a difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Memorial Day is as the name suggests, a day to memorialize those that heroes that have shed their earthly coil. Veteran’s Day is designed to show your appreciation for those still with us.
For the past few years or so, I have taken to repeating the same Memorial Day tradition. I buy quarter-sized inexpensive glass pebbles and spend some time in a local cemetery. I prefer the red, blue, or white for obvious reasons, and I respectfully place them on marked Veteran headstones. I stand over the grave and read the name out loud, often cleaning the headstone off as well. I learned of this practice first on the movie Schindler’s List. It’s a Jewish tradtion, presumably based in their 40 years of being lost in the desert. The stones help protect the gravesite from scavengers. Of course, in post biblical Judaism this is ceremonial, modern burial practices eliminate the need to continually cover a grave with stones. The ceremonial version of this practice has also been carried over to non Jewish graves in Arlington National Cemetery. I carried it from there to gravesite in my local area.
I like using the colored glass pebbles better than leaving flowers or a flag. The flag dry rots and touches the ground, which is not how the US Flag should be handled. Also, some cemeteries remove other decorations nightly. Eventually it becomes hard for a groundskeeper to discern the difference between trash or decorations. A pebble? A pebble eventually becomes part of the landscape. It stays with the grave, a silent reminder that someone out there took a second to honor a stranger.
Sometimes, I have gone back to the same cemetery to see my stones from previous years and it makes me smile. In some cases, it appears the site has had other visitors, and it makes me wonder if they noticed the little red pebble. Every time I do this it makes me think about the what the person might have gone through. The experience normally provokes a silent tear or two while thanking God and these men for the freedom to carry out my life on this day and every other.
This weekend and future Memorial Day weekends, I ask you to do the same. Join me tomorrow; venture out to your local cemeteries and spread this tradition. The pebbles can be found at most dollar stores, usually near the floral decorations. There is a high likelihood there is a cemetery on your way to fish tomorrow too. If not this, please at least pause your day to reflect on those that served and sacrificed to provide our freedom. They gave everything, give them something back.